India eye big win over Bangladesh ahead of Asia Cup semis
Ipoh (Malaysia): Already through to the semifinals, an upbeat India would aim to keep their winning juggernaut rolling and end their pool engagements with a thumping victory over minnows Bangladesh in the Asia Cup hockey tournament, here on Wednesday.
After back-to-back victories against Oman and defending champions South Korea, the Indians are brimming with confidence but they cannot afford to relax in the eight-nation tournament, which they desperately need to win to qualify for next year`s World Cup at The Hague, Netherlands.
India sealed their semifinal place after shocking title holders South Korea 2-0 in their second Pool B match at the Sultan Azlan Shah Stadium on Monday.
A win against Bangladesh on Wednesday would ensure India top Pool B which means they will most likely take on hosts Malaysia in the semifinals and avoid arch-rivals Pakistan till the final hurdle.
Taming Bangladesh shouldn`t be much of a problem for Roelant Oltmans` boys as the Tigers` would be morally down after consecutive defeats, especially after Monday’s 2-4 loss against Oman, a side which is five places below them in the world rankings. Bangladesh had earlier lost 0-9 to Korea in their opening tie.
For both eight-time Olympic champions India and neighbours Pakistan, it is a do-or-die tournament as one of them faces the prospect of missing out on a World Cup berth for the first time since the launch of the tournament in 1971.
But having impressed all and sundry with their game so far, the Indians would be hoping to carry on the momentum to crucial classification matches.
The Indian midfield under inspirational captain Sardar Singh blossomed against the Koreans on Monday. Not only the mid-fielders, India’s ever-fragile backline too dished out a fine show yesterday and stood tall to thwart Korea’s relentless attacks.
And Oltmans would hope for similar performances from his players in the remainder of the event.
"I am very happy with the performance of all the mid-fielders - Sardar, S K Uthappa, Chinglensana (Singh), Manpreet (Singh). Our defenders also did very well. I am happy with the overall team performance. This is a huge experience for youngsters of our team," Oltmans said.
It would not be fair to overlook the performance of India's young and inexperienced forwardline which so far managed to live up to the expectations.
In the absence of quartet of Danish Mujtaba, SV Sunil, Gurwinder Singh Chandi and Akashdeep Singh -- all out of the tournament due to injuries, India fielded a young, untested forwardline for this tournament.
But the likes of Mandeep Singh, Nithin Thimmaiah, Malak Singh, Ramandeep Singh and Nikin Thimmaiah managed to rise to the occasion and did not let anyone feel the vacuum created by the injuries to senior players.
Young Mandeep, in particular, is in superb form and so far scored four goals in the tournament, including three against Oman the other day.
On the goalkeeping front, P R Sreejesh is in rollicking form and against Korea he showed why he is considered as India's best goalkeeper.
Against Korea, Sreejesh made as many as six-seven clear saves, which included some acrobatic efforts, to earn the man-of-the-match award and help India keep a slate clean.
But India will have to do away with their habit of providing easy scoring chances to their opponents ahead of the important classification matches.
Oltmans too admitted that India were lucky not have conceded a goal in the opening half against Korea.
"To be honest we were lucky to be leading at halftime, especially after conceding five penalty corners in the first half," he said.
Going by head-to-head record, the Indians are expected to steamroll the Bangladeshis tomorrow. India defeated Bangladesh 18 times out of 19 encounters between the two teams so far with one ending in a draw. Out of the 18 wins, six came in the Asia Cup.